When it comes to investing for dividends, it is critically important to find companies that have long-term stability. The good news is that there is no shortage of these types of companies in the U.S. The bad news is that the U.S. is looking a little shaky as of late, what with politicians in Washington turning the “squabble” knob all the way to the right over the looming debt ceiling deadline.
Further still, this year’s bull market has really driven up the price of American dividend stocks.
Thus, investors looking for yield might be better off looking out across the shores to overseas investments. In addition to the fact that Europe and other developed markets are home to extremely stable companies, by investing in foreign multinationals, you can gain the added advantage of exposure to growth markets in places such as Asia and even Africa.
Here are four companies that look enticing right now:
Dividend Yield: 3.5%
Unilever’s (UL) standing with consumers is rock-solid. About 2 billion customers use a Unilever product each day, making the company the world’s No. 3 player in the consumer staples segment.
UL’s brands range across four major areas: Personal Care (Dove, Axe), Home Care (Surf), Foods (Knorr, Hellmann’s) and Refreshment (Lipton). With its global scale — which stretches across more than 190 countries — the company gets the benefits of pricing power, economies of scale and leverage on distribution.
But UL has not rested on its laurels. CEO Paul Polman came on board in 2009 and has been working hard to reduce bureaucratic layers, cut back on waste, improve the supply chain and implement new information technology systems.
Going forward, Unilever is nicely positioned to benefit from the growth in emerging markets, as it has had a presence in countries like Brazil, China, India and Indonesia for more than 50 years.
For the past year, Unilever’s operating cash flows came to more than $9 billion, which helps fund a 3.5%-yielding dividend.
Dividend Yield: 4.4%
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has a broad platform covering the three key areas of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer healthcare. It also is one of the few healthcare companies that has treatments for the World Health Organization’s priority diseases, which include HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Over the years, GSK has been aggressive with acquisitions, though in more recent years the company has shifted to unloading non-core businesses like thrombosis brands Arixtra and Fraxiparine.
The company continues to invest heavily in R&D — which will be critical for building a pipeline that deals with patent expiration of existing drugs. In the past quarter, GSK got regulatory approval for three drugs in the U.S.
GlaxoSmithKline also has an advantage in global distribution, which has enabled GSK to strike bottom-line-boosting agreements with Amgen (AMGN) and others sell their drugs, providing a nice boost to the bottom line.
Dividend Yield: 5.2%
BCE (BCE) is the largest telecom operator in Canada … and sports one whopper of a dividend.
As should be no surprise, the traditional wired voice services segment continues to be weak for BCE, and that’s something we can expect in perpetuity. However, BCE has diversified into other businesses, such as broadband, IPTV, satellite television, radio and mobile, which is helping to smooth its transition.
Big competitors for BCE include Rogers Communications (RCI) and Telus (TU), though it also faces niche players such as Public Mobile, Wind Mobile and Mobilicity. Until recently, there was buzz that Verizon (VZ) might enter the market by buying up the latter two, though VZ apparently scrapped plans for Canadian expansion until 2014.
Still, BCE has a strong brand and substantial financial resources, as well as a top-notch network that reaches more than 70% of Canadians. BCE also has the advantage of owning premium content, with rights to programming for Discovery (DISCA) and Viacom’s (VIAB) MTV. Its prospects also look bright with concern to mobile, where the company has invested heavily in its payments solutions.
Toss in a 58.25-cent dividend paid quarterly that yields more than 5%, and you’re looking at one sturdy investment.
Royal Dutch Shell
Dividend Yield: 5.3%
Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A, RDS.B) might not look attractive compared to U.S. companies, considering it’s down roughly 5% vs. broader-market gains in the high teens domestically. Part of that weakness has come amid a huge $2 billion charge Shell took for failed shale investments.
However, with RDS shares now trading around 9 times earnings — compared to 11 for Exxon Mobil (XOM) and 12 for ConocoPhillips (COP) — Royal Dutch Shell might be a value play in the making.
RDS is one of a few global integrated oil operators that has both upstream businesses (exploration and development) and downstream categories (like refining, shipping and gas chains) — a diverse build that helps protect against volatile markets. Besides, the long-term potential for crude oil still looks bright. Continued growth in Asia should keep demand robust.
Shell thinks it will generate a whopping $175 billion to $200 billion in cash between last year and 2015 assuming oil prices of $100 per barrel — a price that has become reality for months now.
That bodes good things for Shell’s dividend, which stands at 90 cents quarterly for a yield of 5.3%.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of High-Profit IPO Strategies, All About Commodities and All About Short Selling. Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.